LOWER MANHATTAN (PIX11) — With office vacancy rates among the highest they have ever been, Mayor Eric Adams and other officials in his administration re-emphasized on Monday their commitment to converting office buildings into residential ones. They also said that they’ll need commitments from legislators in Albany in order to make it happen. Getting that kind of support is not guaranteed, but city leaders said they are optimistic that it will arrive.
It came during a tour of a so-called office-to-residential conversion project in the Financial District. Mayor Adams was led through three floors of 160 Water St., a 24-story high-rise that had once been packed with hundreds of offices. Now, though, work crews are busy throughout the building, creating apartments with high ceilings and tall windows.
They look a lot like the apartments in the building next door at 180 Water St. It had also been a commercial building but is now a luxury market-rate rental.
Mayor Adams toured the roof, to which another floor and outdoor space are being added. Then, he was led by the developers of the building, Vanbarton Group, through a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment on the third floor. The space had all-new appliances and fixtures.
The developer said that a one-bedroom apartment in the building will rent for $3,000 and up, much like prices in the building right next door at 180 Water St., which has been fully converted.
Prices like those are part of the reason why some affordable housing advocates, like leaders of the watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative, said that while they support commercial-to-residential conversions, they most strongly want the change to house people who are most in need of housing.
“We need housing of all types, right?” said Aaron Carr, the founder and executive director of the Housing Rights Initiative. “We need housing for nurses, we need housing for teachers, we need housing for janitors, and we need housing for the homeless.”
At a news conference after the tour of the conversion project, Mayor Adams and some senior members of his administration expressed a firm commitment to affordable housing, but he added that initiatives from New York state government will be necessary to achieve the city’s conversion housing goals.
“If we are successful with our partners in Albany,” said Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, “then what we’ll see is not just the conversion to residential but also the addition of affordable units.”
She and Mayor Adams said that New York City needs revisions in state tax exemption programs, called 421a, to help to provide the means to have more conversions projects that result in more apartments that are below market rate.
“Our goal is to do the changes we’re talking about,” the mayor said, “so that we can incentivize by putting in city resources to do affordable [housing development].”
Justin Brannan, the chair of the New York City Council’s finance committee was also on the tour and at the news conference afterward. He said that the city needs Albany to help increase conversion work that the city has already done.
“Before 9/11 you couldn’t imagine living on Wall Street,” Brannan said, “and now there’s a whole neighborhood down there. That’s what we need to do here.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul has made proposals favoring more conversions statewide. What the legislature ends up doing with her plans will determine how many commercial-to-residential conversions go ahead, and how many of them, if any, are intended for middle- and lower-income New Yorkers.